you stand for something, you will always find some people for you and
against you. If you stand for nothing, you will find nobody against you,
and nobody for you." - Bill Bernbach
There is an old adage
in advertising that says nothing kills a bad product faster than good
advertising. Of course, that is assuming the product actually exists.
recent documentary 'Fyre' on Netflix is about a music festival that
became a slow motion car crash in the Caribbean. It was sold by
influencers and models on Instagram as a baby Coachella on Pablo
Escobar's Island. It turned into Lord of the Flies for rich kids with
yoga pants. It is a cautionary tale about what happens when you can no
longer tell the difference between the advertising and the product. In
fact, in this case, for many, the advertising was the product. One of
the telling comments in the documentary was that the real Fyre Festival
was the photo shoot that happened before the festival itself.
While watching this, it was easy to laugh. And I did, while covering my
eyes from the impending doom. All the ingredients were there.
Magnificent stupidity. No appreciation of why you need professionals.
People trying to pretend time doesn't matter. Self-belief and ego on a
gargantuan scale. People thinking that talking is the same as doing.
ingredients are not new in our business. What has changed in the last
couple of years is the clear delineation between communication and
reality. Which comes first? The Fyre festival is a great example of this
but social media is littered with many others. The subject is the
object. The communication has become the product. It is what is being
sold. It is what is being bought.
It got me thinking about the gap between what brands do and say and where those gaps will be in the future.
of the strange things about our business is you will meet many people
who think advertising is bullshit and is a waste of money. You will also
meet people who think it can fix almost anything. And I do mean
anything. The crazy part is they are often exactly the same people. It
just depends on what they are dealing with when you meet them. How close
is reality to biting? How authentic are they prepared to be? What are
they prepared to say? Where this all gets interesting is when they have
to back up what they say.
Over the last couple of years this
question has become far more important. Building brands that have a
purpose has become a big discussion in our industry. Take Nike, Pepsi
and Gillette as examples of work that have had varying degrees of
success using this idea. I am sure there is a wide range of opinions on
the idea of brand purpose and the specific work I have mentioned.
However, I just want to make two points about this direction with
regards to authenticity and the range of emotions marketers will have to
deal with going forward from the public.
Firstly, brands that
actually live their purpose will have far more success. And purpose, is
not something you can just manufacture. It is a behaviour. Done well it
can make the brand distinctive and connect with the community it is in.
Think about what Nike did with Colin Kaepernick. It was a risk that was
mitigated by the brand itself. Very few brands could do this because
they don't have the track record. Are they really doing it and have they
always done it, will always be the questions to answer.
seem obvious but there are still brands out there doing exactly what
the Fyre Festival did. With social media, the danger in doing this is
considerable. The world is watching. Communications about purpose
without any authentic experience is not an option. For the brands doing
this, welcome to the island, the people are pissed off and they are
telling their friends.
The other point is that to do this
successfully you have to be comfortable with a little hatred or perhaps
quite a bit. This is going to get weird for a lot of brands and I think
some won't be prepared for what could happen. To have a purpose, you
have to have a point of view. That point of view will not be universally
liked. That is almost certainly guaranteed. Nike and Gillette
experienced this in fairly extreme ways ranging from shoes being burnt
to razor blades being flushed down the toilet. All online of course. How
a brand can backup what it says will allow it to absorb this kind of
pressure and hold the line. If you are not authentic, welcome to the
island, have a Pepsi.
The world is changing but then again maybe
not. It would seem in a fractured media landscape that has both social
influencers and big brands trying to shape reality, albeit in very
different ways, one thing will always holds true.
If you say it, you better bloody do it.